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Sacramento Indians hope bill will restore sovereignty -- in Hawaii

Steve Magagnini The Sacramento Bee May. 13, 2009

The Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians celebrated the grand opening of their Red Hawk Casino last December with native dances – and Hawaiian songs.

Most of the tribe's 478 members trace their roots to Hawaiians and Indians who built Sacramento and married during the Gold Rush.

Now they, like many of the 21,000 area residents with Hawaiian ancestry, are closely following a bill in Congress to grant native Hawaiians sovereignty similar to that enjoyed by California's 106 federally recognized Indian nations.

They hope to play a role in a reborn Hawaiian government, and the bill, by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, would give them that chance. It has twice stalled in the Senate but now has the backing of President Barack Obama, a Hawaii native.

"The time for this is overdue," said Akaka's press secretary, Jesse Van Broder Dyke.

Sovereignty search unites cultures
The legislation would allow native Hawaiians to set up a government and negotiate with the state of Hawaii and the U.S. government for land rights – but not for gambling, which was removed from the bill to defuse critics.

If it passes, a council would certify voters for the first election. Anyone with native Hawaiian ancestry would be able to participate, Van Broder Dyke said.

Many local Hawaiians, including those on the Shingle Springs rancheria, feel passionately about rights stolen from their ancestors when Hawaii's kingdom was overthrown by U.S. troops in 1893.

"I think they should have the same rights as native Americans – they are native Americans," said Hannah Adams, 23, who serves on Shingle Springs' tribal gaming commission.

The tribe is keenly aware of the power of sovereignty, which has given them access to land, federal health and education money, and the right to make their own laws and establish casinos.

"Sovereignty is very important – we had to fight for ours," added Hannah Adams' father, tribal historian Rick Adams. "Two years ago, this was the Shingle Springs Band of homeless Indians."

If Hawaiian sovereignty is restored, "we'll pack up and just go," declares Adams, 55, who teaches Nisenan – their native Indian language – as well as Hawaiian songs, dances and culture to local tribes.

Members of the Shingle Springs Band say they owe their survival to their Hawaiian ancestors who married Indians and, in doing so, saved them from extermination.

The Adams family, tribal Chairman Nick Fonesca and others proudly claim they're among those descended from Swiss entrepreneur John Sutter's original 10 Hawaiians.

After losing their way in the Sacramento and Feather rivers, the group came ashore near 28th and C streets in 1839 and founded "New Helvetia," which became Sacramento.

Sutter's Indian ambassadors
For nearly a century, Spanish missionaries and American mountain men had failed to settle the wild Sacramento Valley by force, said Steve Beck, director of education at Sutter's Fort State Park.

"Sutter didn't have any force, but he did have 10 Hawaiians, one of whom, Manuiki, was his paramour," Beck said.

"They're tattooed, they're pierced, they're half naked, they're dark-complected," he said, "and they don't look a whole lot different from the Indians in the Central Valley."

That resemblance helped the Hawaiians on Sutter's payroll convince 35 local Indian villages that Sutter was going to pay them to work, not enslave them.

In his memoirs, Sutter recalled the Hawaiians, using a name then common to describe Hawaiian workers, "I could not have settled the country without the aid of these Kanakas."

They also built the first settlers' homes in Sacramento – grass shacks, or hale pili, made with California willow and bamboo, similar to the grass huts at the Maidu Interpretive Center in Roseville where Rick Adams teaches.

Along the way, one of Sutter's Hawaiians, O'Ka'i-ana, learned Maidu and married the daughter of a Maidu Indian chief.

Forced onto 'Trail of Tears'
Adams said his tribe and hundreds of other California Indians wouldn't be alive today if they hadn't married Hawaiians, who had far more legal rights than California Indians through U.S. diplomatic relations with Hawaii.

"My grandmother Pamela Clemso Adams married three Hawaiians so the state couldn't take her children away," he said.

After gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill along the American River at Coloma in 1848, the Sacramento Valley had become a magnet for hundreds more Hawaiians, excellent divers who fished out gold nuggets.

Many settled at Kanaka Diggings northeast of Coloma, according to historian Hank Meals. California's first "Good Humor" man, Charlie O'Kaaina, even sold ice cream from his ice wagon in the Sierra foothills.

But, in 1863, the U.S. cavalry rounded up 450 indigenous people from Sacramento to Butte and forced them on "California's Trail of Tears" – a 100-mile trek to the Round Valley Reservation in Mendocino.

O'Ka'i-ana and his Maidu wife and children were among those herded into Round Valley, but he wrote to Hawaiian King Kamehameha V, who got the U.S. government to release them.

Rick Adams' own grandmother eventually wound up at Verona, a Hawaiian-Indian fishing village on the Feather River north of current-day Verona. Sustained by striped bass and salmon, Verona had boarding houses, gambling halls, saloons, shops, a bowling alley and a post office.

In 1916, a federal Indian agent said the Verona colony would be susceptible to a "white man's disease" if it wasn't relocated to one of dozens of rancherias established for "landless Indians."

Thus was born the 160-acre Shingle Springs Rancheria. But lacking roads and electricity, it was no magnet for the Verona colony. It wasn't until 1970 that former residents of the colony, and their descendants – who include Maidu, Miwok and other bands – finally began moving there, Adams said.

Hawaiians, Indians sign pact
In the rancheria's community center one recent evening, Adams sang a Hawaiian song, "River Of Sorrows," while his daughter, Hannah, played his Hawaiian gourd drum, engraved with Hawaiian and American Indian faces:

"Another man who broke his word … and the truth could not be heard," he sang. "When I see the rain fall from the skies I get down on my knees and I cry … somebody's going to have to pay and it looks like you and me."

The tale it tells of stolen lands resonates with many tribal members.

"Sovereignty means pride, but it's hard to get these days," said Carmen Stivers, 46, who performs the hula. "There's not very much space in Hawaii for them to have their own land, but they could have their own government."

Last summer, Hawaiians from Sacramento signed a palm-print contract on an animal skin with Indians from Shingle Springs and other tribes granting Hawaiians water rights on Indian land.

"They allow us to use their waters for our outrigger canoes," said Mona Foster, founder of Hui O Hawaii of Sacramento Inc., a 38-year-old Hawaiian cultural organization with about 300 members.

"For us it was a very emotional and sacred blessing," Foster said.

Miwok Indians from Ione and Indians from Shingle Springs also have been advocating here and in Washington for the passage of the Akaka bill, Foster said.

"We're working together as indigenous people in this country," she said, "and it was wonderful to have their acceptance."

The Sacramento-Hawaiian connection is so deep that Cody Pueo Pata, a Hawaiian-Maidu from Sacramento, has become a renowned Hawaiian singer in the islands.

In turn, many Hawaiians come here for jobs and college, said Sacramento social worker Jason Keliihohokula Lindo.

Lindo, 49, said some California Hawaiians advocate secession from the United States because they think the Akaka bill is watered down.

And, he said, some think membership in the new nation should be based on percentage of Hawaiian blood.

"But it's very unHawaiian to say we've lost our identity," Lindo said. "Almost half of our people live outside the state of Hawaii and we have kept up our cultural ties, and we still feel the pain of knowing we've lost our country, our form of government and our language."

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